Irate Airline Passengers Threaten to Sue Continental

Dozens of outraged airplane passengers are threatening to sue Continental Airlines, claiming they were left stranded on a plane and grounded for hours in hellish conditions.

Because of bad weather, Continental's July 19 Flight 1669 from Caracas, Venezuela, to Newark, N.J., was diverted to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where it landed at 1:50 p.m. Passengers said after sitting on the grounded plane for hours, they began protesting by banging on overhead compartments, clapping their hands and even signing a petition asking to be let off.

"We were not provided with food," said passenger Caroline Murray. "There were passengers who were ill. There was one woman who was diabetic. There was a pregnant woman with small children. It was shocking to me."

As the 124 passengers repeatedly tried to get answers as to why they couldn't land in Newark or get off the plane, someone caught the scene on film.

"When you've got passengers about ready to riot, you've got an air crew that's not properly trained to communicate," said ABC News aviation consultant John Nance.

At 6:30 p.m., homeland security officers finally allowed passengers to exit the plane, but their troubles didn't end. The officers led them into a room, where they were held for two additional hours.

"We were removed from the plane and were forced to walk single file against the wall, flanked by armed officers one of whom had an attack dog," Murray said.

Then it was back on the plane for an additional hour of waiting before the flight finally left for Newark. It landed around 10 p.m., nine hours late.

Continental Airlines said because Flight 1669 was international, federal law prohibited it from allowing passengers off the plane.

"[There is] no question, the flight took a lot longer than planned because of the diversion," said a Continental spokesperson. "Assistance was provided to passengers with special needs."

Overall that day, 341 Continental flights arrived at Newark carrying 35,000 customers, the spokesperson added.

On the other side of the country, another travel nightmare stranded more than 17,000 international travelers this weekend because of a computer outage at Los Angeles airport..

"We sat for three hours on a plane," said one passenger. "And then we sat for two more hours in an aisle. And then we sit in line."

These are just the latest in a string of incidents that began on Valentine's Day, when thousands of travelers were stranded on planes for up to 10 hours at all three New York City-area airports, JFK, LaGuardia and Newark.

"It's horrifying to think that that kind of power can be wielded against you and you have literally no recourse," Murray said.

In the past, Congress has attempted to pass a passenger's bill of rights with no success, but last week New York state passed its own law.

The law requires that airlines at New York airports provide snacks and water, fresh air and working restrooms to passengers when flights are delayed more than three hours. Failure to do so can result in fines to the airline of up to $1,000 per passenger.

The law will likely protect travelers from states other than New York because millions of flights make connections at New York City airports.

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